April 21 (UPI) -- NASA still has a shot at landing astronauts on the moon by 2024, Bill Nelson, the administration's choice to lead NASA, said in a Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday.
"I think you may be pleased that we're going to see that timetable tried to be adhered to," Nelson testified when Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., asked about the schedule for lunar landings.
"But recognize that, with some sobering reality, that space is hard," Nelson added.
During the hearing with the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, senators from both parties showered praise on Nelson, a former Democratic senator from Florida.
"There are not many Biden nominees about whom I am enthusiastic, and your nomination is a notable exception to that," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told him.
"And I'm enthusiastic because you and I have worked together for a lot of years, and I know that you genuinely care about the mission ... that you genuinely care about space exploration and American leadership in space."
Nelson faced questions about the moon schedule, commercialization of space exploration, diversity at NASA and climate change, among other issues.
"I have to say I was surprised last week about the human landing system development contract," Cantwell said.
In response, Nelson indicated that the SpaceX contract is just the beginning of NASA's planned Artemis missions to the moon. The Trump Administration had set a goal of 2024 for the first astronaut landing there since 1972.
"This [SpaceX contract] is a demonstration of landing a crew on the surface of the moon and returning safely," Nelson said. "After that, there's a lot of activity that can go on before we eventually create the spacecraft that will go to Mars, and those are going to be future competitions."
Nelson voiced support for further commercialization of research in low-Earth orbit, but also said he supports using the government-sponsored International Space Station as long as possible.
"Get NASA out of low-Earth orbit, and let NASA go explore," Nelson said. "Mars is the goal in the decade of the 2030s."
Asked about the importance of climate change, Nelson referenced his fight into space in 1986 when he was a payload specialist on a space shuttle flight for six days. At the time, he was a member of the House of Representatives.
"You can't combat climate change unless you can measure it," Nelson said.
In orbit on the shuttle, he said, "you could see the effects on the climate for example, what we were doing to mess it up. I could see over the Amazon, where they were destroying the rainforests coming over Madagascar."
Nelson represented Florida in the U.S. Senate for almost two decades before he was unseated in 2018 by Republican Rick Scott, who was then governor.
Scott congratulated him on his nomination during the hearing and asked if Nelson would support further investment in Florida's space infrastructure. Nelson said he would.
Since 2019, Nelson has served on the NASA Advisory Council.
"Bill has a proven history of supporting our work here at NASA and has helped advance America's position in human exploration, science, aeronautics and technology," Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk said in a statement last month.